If your doctor recommends a pneumonia vaccine, here's your response

Coming Around Again

If you’re going to test a vaccine, test it on healthy young people. That way you have a good chance of getting excellent results.

That’s what they did back in the 1970s with the first test of the pneumonia vaccine.

You’ll never guess how it turned out. The vaccine proved to be very effective in preventing pneumonia among healthy young subjects!

But now, 30-plus years later, the elderly are the ones most likely to get a pneumonia vaccine–and many of them are in poor health.

So…how do you suppose the pneumonia vaccine works for them?

New research from Canada suggests that half of all elderly people who are hospitalized for pneumonia either die or are hospitalized again with pneumonia within five years. And that’s EVERYONE–whether they get the vaccine or not.

No surprises

Last year, a Swiss team analyzed more than 20 clinical trials that compared the pneumonia vaccine with control groups. These trials involved more than 100,000 subjects.

In the Canadian Medical Association Journal the Swiss team wrote: “There was little evidence of vaccine protection among elderly patients or adults with chronic illness in analyses of all trials…”

And: “Pneumococcal vaccination does not appear to be effective in preventing pneumonia, even in populations for whom the vaccine is currently recommended.”

The CDC recommends pneumonia vaccinations for these populations:

  • Over age 65
  • Pregnant women (what?!)
  • Diabetics
  • Heart disease patients
  • Liver disease patients
  • Asthma patients
  • Smokers

These recommendations are kind of like a wish list. There’s no evidence the vaccine prevents pneumonia in, for instance, diabetics. But we sure wish it did, so we’re putting them on the list.

Here’s what the CDC should be recommending: a visit to the dentist.

According to studies published in the Journal of Periodontology and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, regular cleaning of the teeth and gums by a dentist, coupled with good oral hygiene at home, is associated with a reduced risk of pneumonia.

Researchers speculate that excessive bacteria in the gum line eventually accumulate in the throat, setting the stage for infection and respiratory problems such as pneumonia.

That might be speculation, but I’m buying it.

And I think you know what I’m not buying–a pneumonia vaccine.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson

“Pneumonia vaccine ineffective against repeat infections: study” Tom Blackwell, National Post, 6/6/10, nationalpost.com
“Efficacy of Pneumococcal Vaccination in Adults” Canadian Medical Association Journal, Vol. 180, No. 1, 1/6/09, cmaj.ca
“Effectiveness of Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine in Older Adults” New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 348, No. 18, 5/1/03, content.nejm.org

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